President . . .
It has been one of the coldest and wettest Springs on record in much of Wisconsin.
What does that mean for our wildlife and the hunts here come September? Well the good news is that the heavy snows came late enough that the deer herd was in pretty good condition prior to it, so they were able to survive in most of the state without significant losses. And actually, the wet lush conditions bode well for maximum antler growth this summer.
The bad news is that the winter wasn’t as kind to the turkey population, at least here in northcentral Wisconsin. In my part of the state, people were reporting dead turkeys in late January, even before the deep snow arrived. We had over a week of 25 below temperatures and everything was frozen solid, and then the snow came. We had 54 inches in about a 10 day span, and nothing could move. In the winter I hunt on snowshoes for fox and coyotes and for almost two weeks, even they weren’t moving. Hopefully the rest of the state didn’t experience the same problem because when turkey season arrived here, there were far fewer turkeys in the woods, and to make matters worse, because of the very cold, wet and late spring, few people have reported successful hatches of young poults with hens. However, I just heard word of a brood of very small poults, so hopefully many of the hens are re-nesting.
In April, Vice president Dave Peterson, Secretary Rich Kirchmeyer and I drove to Omaha to attend the Pope & Young Biennial Convention and Banquet. It’s an event that every bowhunter should try to attend at least once in their lifetime. Besides all the world record trophies on display and vendors from almost every facet of the hunting community, it’s a chance to meet and talk to some of the biggest names in the bowhunting world. And regardless of where in the country it’s held, bowhunters from Wisconsin are always very well represented there.
However, this convention was extra special for WBH. To be recognized and honored by these folks is both humbling and encouraging. Every two years Pope and Young selects just one individual or organization from around the country, or actually the world, to receive the P&Y Conservation Award. It is considered their most prestigious non-game award, and for WBH to be selected over so many other great folks and organizations is overwhelming to me, and a confirmation that as an organization representing bowhunters and bowhunting, we must be doing a lot of things right.
The recognition banquet itself was quite an event. To receive the award in front of more than a thousand people in attendance, surrounded by magnificent trophies of virtually every species of North American big game, and after an inspiring address by keynote speaker Donald Trump Jr., a very accomplished bowhunter himself, made the whole experience very special for us. We were there to accept the award on behalf of all WBH members. Because to a great extent, WBH is all of us, a group of thousands of dedicated members working to promote, preserve and protect the great sport of bowhunting. So, although this award hangs in the office in Clintonville, it really belongs to each of you, because without your loyal support, WBH can’t do what we do.
CWD is finally getting a little more of the attention it needs if we are ever going to defeat this scourge of the deer and deer hunting world. Our previous governor began to devote more money and resources to it later in his term, and was criticized for “too little, too late”. The new governor, despite campaign promises, surprised everyone by devoting zero dollars to it in his biennial budget. This upset many folks in the hunting world, who have been working ever since to add provisions to the budget to add funds before the budget is confirmed. Unfortunately, the majority party, in an effort to address this, got some bad advice and added $100,000 for CWD research - but to be given to deer farms to research how captive deer could be genetically altered to resist CWD. The head of that research project admitted that even if successful, it would have very little application to the wild deer herd.
This was a bitter pill for sportsmen to swallow: giving $100K of hunting license dollars to deer farms: business entities that many blame for some of the CWD problems we are now facing. So WBH joined with several other hunting groups in formally requesting that the governor veto this line in the revised budget, and reallocate those funds to the DNR for CWD research that will benefit our wild deer population. As of yesterday, we have been informed that the governor agreed with us and has made that change.
There is a lot more work to be done on CWD, including better disposal methods for potential CWD infected carcasses, and WBH is involved in several aspects of that effort, but everyone of us that harvests a deer in Wisconsin can help. If you process your own deer – please, dispose of the carcass in your local landfill, if allowed, or at one of the deer disposal dumpsters that will eventually be made available throughout the state. Because almost all of the CWD prions an infected deer carries remain with the carcass, disposing of carcasses “on the landscape”, is considered one of the main potential factors contributing to the spread of CWD. For this same reason as it relates to dead deer, the board did support the “payment for positives” concept, although it’s unlikely there will be funds available to implement it.
Furthermore, if you harvest a deer, even if it’s not from a CWD area, please take the time and effort to locate a DNR kiosk where you can drop off the head for CWD testing. If we are going to beat CWD, we all need to be involved. Hopefully bowhunters will be leading the way.
Wisconsin has a new bear management plan. Rich may talk about it in his DNR Bear Committee report. It’s amazing to see how much work and research goes into this process, and thanks to Rich, WBH was involved every step of the way. It’s an excellent plan but there was a provision added to it that was not favorable to bowhunters.
A majority of Wisconsin bear hunters hunt over bait, as compared to a much smaller percentage that hunt with the aid of dogs, and those percentages are even more skewed as it relates to bowhunters, almost all of which hunt over bait. The concerning provision in the plan, which has been defeated twice in Spring Hearings, would have allowed hound hunting for bears in Zone C, a large area in central Wisconsin south of Hwy 64, that is primarily private land and where hound hunting has not been permitted in the past.
Zone C doesn’t hold a lot of bears so success is very low, with only 9% success there last year compared to over 50% in all the Zones up north. But many hunters gravitated to it anyway because they didn’t have to be concerned with hounds disrupting their bait hunts. Also, because the success rate is so low, in part due to the relative difficulty of bait hunting, the DNR has been able to issue many more permits there, allowing more folks to hunt in Zone C than in all the rest of the state combined. This also allows for much shorter wait times to draw a permit in that Zone. This provision would have changed all of that.
The other major problem would be dogs straying onto private land. Bear dog training is now allowed in Zone C, and even during the heat of summer, there are constant complaints of bear hounds running on private lands. And even though most hunters try to keep their dogs where they are allowed, as one hunter told me, “dogs can’t read no trespassing signs”. And because most of Zone C is private land and bear chases average almost 7 miles long, the resulting confrontations have led to more posted land and hard feelings towards hunters in general.
It was also noted that the limited public lands in this area are very heavily hunted and utilized during the fall, and dog chases, by their nature, would be quite disruptive to a lot of folks even on public land.
Almost every bear dog hunter I spoke to from this area said the same thing: bear hound hunting in Zone C will only lead to many more confrontations that could result in the loss of bear hound hunting altogether. However, there were others that fought hard to keep this provision in the Plan. Fortunately, the Natural Resources Board agreed by a vote of 6 to 1 to remove it from the final plan.
That all being said, bear-hound hunting is an exciting and demanding sport, and those that train and maintain their dogs all year for the chance to run them are some of the most committed, dedicated and knowledgeable hunters in the woods. It’s a way of hunting, almost a way of life, that has its roots going back centuries, and it deserves to be honored and protected. WBH will always support this and all other valid forms of hunting.
Finally, a quick update on the crossbow season. While at the P&Y convention in Omaha, it was encouraging to talk to representatives of several other states that told me they are using the archery vs. crossbow success data from Wisconsin to successfully convince their state agencies to regulate crossbows separately and not just lump them into their archery seasons. Ironically, we still need to do the same thing right here.
The issue here is far from dead, and further action could come soon, so stay tuned.
Two things that drive me crazy about this whole issue:
Many crossbow hunters seem to believe that we are trying to stop them from hunting with their crossbows in Wisconsin.
Those 65 and older seem to believe we want them to lose the advantage of the long crossbow season they have now.
Both of these things are NOT TRUE.
All we have ever asked for is a crossbow season that allows about the same success on bucks as bowhunters and gun hunters have. There will always be a crossbow season in Wisconsin. Everyone that hunts with a crossbow now, or wants to in the future – will still have that opportunity with a substantial season that will give them as good of a chance at bucks with their crossbow as they will have with their gun or bow.
And, WBH has specifically stated that we will not support a crossbow season that takes any time away from the handicapped or elderly 65 and older, that they enjoy now and have in the past.
Once the playing field is level, we are quite confident that the immense popularity of bowhunting will return to the forefront. I’ve already talked to crossbow hunters that bought expensive crossbows but have returned to bowhunting. They say it’s not the same. Much of the challenge is gone, and little skill is required compared to shooting archery equipment.
Finally, I often need to remind myself that although we are always working to make things better, we are incredibly blessed already. In many countries the public isn’t even allowed to hunt. Heck, in many you can’t even own a gun and sometimes not even a bow. Even where hunting is allowed, few places in the world manage their game resources for the benefit of everyday hunters like we do here. Perhaps it’s because I’m writing this on the 4th of July, but I’m especially struck today on how fortunate we are to be hunters living in this time and place.
Shoot straight and may all your dreams come true this hunting season.